Red Cross rethinking downtown HQ design, delaying land swap

A decision by the American Red Cross of Greater Indianapolis to rethink the scope of its new headquarters project has stalled progress on a massive land swap that would clear the way for a $43 million apartment project on Massachusetts Avenue.

The Red Cross had planned to spend $10 million to construct an office building near downtown on North Meridian Street. But now the not-for-profit is having second thoughts.

It hopes to know by the end of the month whether to proceed with its current plans for the building, or modify the design to cut costs.

The city, which is leading the land swap, so far is taking the Red Cross decision in stride.

“We are ready to get going as soon as we can, but we also recognize that we’re dealing with projects that are going to be here for decades,” said Deron Kintner, the city’s deputy mayor for economic development. “If it takes a couple of months to get this right, we’re OK with that.”

But the Red Cross’ lack of movement is beginning to affect other pieces of the land swap.

Schmidt Associates designed the Red Cross headquarters and the five-story apartment building planned for Mass Ave. The architectural firm was set to present an updated design for the Mass Ave project to the Indianapolis Historic Preservation Commission on March 5.

Now the firm probably won’t do so for at least another three months, said Wayne Schmidt, principal of Schmidt Associates, or until the Red Cross situation is sorted out.

“The timing is still critical, but the dominoes have to fall,” he said. “It’s going to take some more time, and everybody has to be patient.”

Schmidt Associates is willing to make design modifications to meet its client’s needs, Schmidt said.

The Red Cross building as planned would total 44,000 square feet and be large enough to accommodate its 64 employees. In addition, 151 parking spaces would be provided in a garage.

To reduce costs, for example, local Red Cross CEO John Lyter said the organization might nix the parking garage.

The decision to re-evaluate the headquarters plan is part of a broader directive from the national organization’s Washington, D.C.-based home office. It hired a real estate manager in October—about the time the local office unveiled the design of its new headquarters—to assess all property nationwide that the Red Cross owns or leases.

“Our project, along with every other project, is getting the review before it goes forward,” Lyter said. “That said, we’re still committed to the sale of this property.” 

The land swap calls for the Indianapolis Fire Department to take over the Red Cross’ current headquarters at 441 E. 10th St.—about four blocks north of the existing IFD complex at the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue, North New Jersey Street and East North Street.

The city is paying the Red Cross $8 million for the East 10th Street property and floating it a $2.3 million loan to purchase the North Meridian Street land. The not-for-profit will still need to raise $4 million to finance the project, Lyter said.

“We don’t have a significant capital requirement,” he said, “but if we could eliminate that and put our fundraising efforts into mission work, that’s better.”  

The group’s plan calls for building its headquarters at the former home of the Payton Wells car dealership at 1510 N. Meridian St. The dealership closed in 2007, and the building was demolished early last year.

The Red Cross also has demolished a two-story building to the south at 1440 N. Meridian St., the former home of WXIN-TV Channel 59, which moved to Intech Park on the northwest side in late 2003.

The final step in the land-swap scheme would have a team of local developers—J.C. Hart Co., Schmidt Associates and Strongbox Commercial—construct a five-story mixed-use project with about 235 apartments and 40,000 square feet of commercial space on the 1.45-acre Mass Ave site vacated by the fire department.

City officials say the $43 million project, which would receive free land and a public investment from tax-increment financing revenue, would connect sections of Mass Ave and attract an influx of new residents. The real estate brokerage CBRE is working with the city to orchestrate the development and all the moves required to make it happen.

But the design of another building involved in the land swap has met resistance as well.

Plans for the new fire station were to be presented to the city’s Regional Center Hearing Examiner in January. The city asked for a continuance until February to give the architect more time to present a lighting plan and more details about the building’s windows. Now the date has been pushed back until March 13, at the earliest, said Department of Metropolitan Development spokesman John Bartholomew.

“Apparently, some of the neighbors weren’t thrilled with the design, and they asked for a change,” he said.

Original plans for the fire station filed with the city show a two-story, 22,825-square-foot building to be built on the southwest corner of the Red Cross property along Fort Wayne Avenue.

Because the site is within the Regional Center overlay district, the project needs to comply with Regional Center Urban Design guidelines and requires initial approval by the city’s hearing examiner.

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